Binge Drinking & Alcoholism — Questions from a Brother: Vol I, issue 2

Are binge drinking and alcoholism related?

I’m sure there are people far better qualified than me to answer this question, but I’ll share some insights that I’ve gleaned from my own reading and I’ll share my own experience.

Let’s begin with a definition of binge drinking from the CDC’s site:

Binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.

NIAAA doesn’t discuss “alcoholism” but refers to the problem as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).  NIAAA categorizes AUD as having three phases, mild, moderate, and severe as defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently DSM-5).  A diagnosis is made based on the number of positive answers to 11 questions regarding a 12 month period.

Severe AUD is probably the stage that most people think of when they here the term Alcoholism.  It certainly was what I thought of as the Alcoholic.  Picture the guy in dirty clothes on the street corner with a cheep bottle of booze in a bag.  Picture the person who gets up and starts the day with a drink instead of coffee.  Picture the person who can’t stop shaking without a drink. One of the later stages of alcoholism/AUD is physical dependence upon alcohol.  That’s when your body can’t function without it.  That’s what most people think of when they hear the term “alcoholic.”

But here’s the thing:  The CDC says that most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent

So, binge drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a correlation between binge drinking and alcoholism or AUD.

In October of 2015, Scientific American published a blog post titled “Why Binge Drinking May Wire the Brain for Alcohol Dependence.”  In this blog post, the author discusses protein bonds that are formed in the brain as a result of binge drinking.

 “Neuroscientist, Amy Lasek, at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues, report that after binge drinking, neurons in brain circuits responsible for alcohol addiction become encased in a protein material, called a perineuronal net. The impenetrable coating cements neurons involved in alcohol addiction into a circuit that is extremely difficult to break.”

When I look at the definition of binge drinking above, I can’t help but think that this describes ALL the drinking I did in college.  And it was in college where I learned to drink, and it was all binge drinking.  Though there were times in my life when I could drink without binging, they were rare (very, very rare).

Did binge drinking cause my alcoholism?  I don’t know.  The truth is, science isn’t clear on what causes this problem.

Did it contribute to my alcoholism?  Most definitely.  In the end, I was binging daily.



Questions from a Brother: Vol I, Issue 1

As I mentioned yesterday, earlier this year I got a number of questions from a concerned fraternity brother about my journey in sobriety that I’d like to address on this blog.  I felt the need to paint the picture of my college experience as background for this series of posts.  I’m writing my responses to these questions, in hopes that others may learn from my experience, strength, and hope.

What should the Psi Chapter Alumni Association (hereafter referred to as we) be doing to help known alcoholics, those living with alcoholics, and those that will one day discover that they have the disease?

Well, this isn’t going to be easy. Continue reading

College: where it all started…

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

39216_458599814953_4267907_nA few months ago, a fraternity brother of mine sent me a list of questions related to my recovery.  I’ve been mulling over answering them directly or on the blog and after discussing them with my fraternity brother decided to answer them on the blog.  Before I start that series, I think a little background on my college experience might be in order.

University Park is located at the exact center of Pennsylvania and is mostly surrounded by the borough of State College, PA.  The town is a total of 4.5 square miles and is surrounded by farmland and mountains.  In the 1990s, the town boasted a total of 42,000 residents and the student population was approximately 40,000 undergraduates.  The entire area is peaceful and relaxed and goes by the moniker “Happy Valley.”  To say that it is an idyllic location is an understatement of perhaps the greatest magnitude.

When I was in school, there were 56 fraternities registered with the Intra-Fraternity Council and 23 sororities registered with the Panhellenic Council. Within the confines of the 4.5 square miles, there were approximately 25 bars.  There were at least 10 beer distributors within ten miles of the town.  Due to Pennsylvania’s insane liquor laws, you can only buy beer in cases or kegs at beer distributors – if you want a six pack, you have to go to a “six pack shop” where you pay significantly more than at a distributor.  And if you want wine or liquor, you have to go to a state store.  There were two state stores in the town.

Penn State University Park is officially a dry campus.  Continue reading